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Pigeon Guillemot Life History


OceansPigeon Guillemots breed along rocky ocean coastlines and islands, where they seek out crevices in the rocks for nesting. During the breeding season, they forage in shallow marine waters near the nest, usually less than 100 feet deep. Some venture farther offshore, especially after breeding, where they forage over deeper continental slope waters. They favor areas where the seafloor has rocky crevices where they can find prey. They also forage in tidal rips, in kelp beds, and around sites with upwelling. After breeding, some move to sheltered areas where they molt in groups of up to 100. During winter, some Pigeon Guillemots move to sheltered coastal waters, but others forage far from shore, at the edge of pack ice in the Bering Sea, or in openings in the ice called polynyas.Back to top



Pigeon Guillemots eat mostly small fish and invertebrates such as crabs, worms, and mollusks. To capture prey, they dive beneath the water, propelling themselves with their wings and steering with their feet as they inspect crevices near the seafloor for prey. With a quick jab of the bill, they capture prey from between rocks, in the water column, and from below sea ice. They swallow small prey underwater but bring larger items to the surface to process (soften) in the bill before swallowing whole. During the breeding season, they usually feed very near the nest site. Prey include Pacific sandfish, lesser sandeel, northern sandlance, boreal Pacific sandlance, Pacific herring, capelin, Pacific cod, Pacific tomcod, Alaskan pollock, gunnels, daubed shanny, pricklebacks, sculpins, slender sole, Pacific sanddab, western river lamprey, common surf perch, eelpouts, and rockfish. They also consume fish eggs, especially of Pacific herring, and other marine creatures such as bristleworms, segmented worms, squid, octopus, mollusks, and many species of shrimp and crab. Most of these are the Pacific counterparts to the same species that the Black Guillemot eats in the Atlantic. Black Guillemots also eat sponges, jellyfish, ctenophores, and small crustaceans, so, it is likely that Pigeon Guillemots eat them, too.

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Nest Placement

CliffMales probably select the nest site which is set above the high-tide mark on rocky coasts, usually in cliff crevices or gaps between boulders, but also in holes under tree roots, old rabbit burrows, under jetsam, wharves, bridges, and abandoned buildings. Sometimes the male excavates a burrow.

Nest Description

Most nests are scrapes in the substrate or very basic nests of stones, bones, and seashells with a central depression.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-2 eggs
Egg Description:Pale cream, may be tinged greenish or bluish, with large and small dark blotches, often concentrated in ring around large end.
Condition at Hatching:Covered with black down and can move about on land.
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Surface DivePigeon Guillemots are socially monogamous and retain their pair bonds for multiple breeding seasons. In spring, pairs return to the breeding grounds and begin courtship near the nest site. The male often chases or circles the female at sea, calling, and sometimes pursues her underwater. On land, the male circles or even jumps over the female, pointing the bill downward and raising his scarlet feet conspicuously as he marches. The female reciprocates by circling the male, and then crouching to indicate acceptance. Males are the primary defenders of the nest site and guard the female against attention from other males. Both parents incubate the eggs (usually 2) and feed the chick. Chicks leave the nest 4–8 weeks after hatching, usually not accompanied by a parent. Pigeon Guillemots may nest singly or in small colonies, especially on islands.Back to top


Low Concern

Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 360,000 individuals and rates the species a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Pigeon Guillemot populations have been reduced locally by oil spills via direct contamination or by impacts to the ocean ecosystem. Hunting and oil spills have severely reduced populations of sea otters, the main predators of sea urchins. Without otters, the urchins have denuded the seafloor of vegetation in some areas, reducing habitat for guillemot prey and thus populations of guillemots. Additional threats include introduced mammalian predators on breeding islands, and entanglement in fishing nets.

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Ewins, Peter J. (1993). Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2021.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2021.

Partners in Flight (2019). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2019.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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